Sermon on the Occasion of the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Accession of His Majesty King Charles III
Preached by the Reverend Dr Trevor Jamison at Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields, September 11th 2022
We live in a moment of change. During the last one hundred and eighty-five years, for only fifty-one of those years has the National Anthem been, ‘God Save the King.’ Now, with the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, things change. With the accession of His Majesty King Charles III, and with the next two in line to the throne being male, kings are here to stay for a while. Many things, little and large, change. Among the lawyers, QCs have become KCs. Guides will ‘serve,’ and scouts do their ‘duty’ to ‘the King.’ And the Royal Navy now puts to sea in His Majesty’s Ships.
Yet even in this moment of change we are encouraged to look back, to give thanks, for the life and service of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, as this nation prepares to say farewell to its longest reigning monarch. And it seems appropriate to do so by reflecting on a biblical reading where a woman is the representative of those who put their faith in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the promise and prospect of resurrection to eternal life.
One person’s death is the occasion for the conversation that takes place in this passage from John’s Gospel. A man, Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, has died, and now Jesus has come to visit. One of Lazarus’s sisters, Martha, comes out to meet Jesus. The other, Mary, stays at home. And when Jesus and Martha meet she plunges right in: ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.’ (11:21) Well, maybe not then, but Lazarus would have died some time – even should Jesus bring him back to life for a while. In the end, everyone dies, whoever and whatever they (and we) are.
I have to admit I felt a sense of surprise when the Queen died. Like many, part of my surprise was about the suddenness. One day, she was meeting with our new Prime Minister, and the next she was gone. Yes, Her Majesty was obviously becoming physically frailer, but then many people become frail and carry on for years. It all happened so quickly, with ominous news, early in the day, of close family members travelling from distance to be by her side, and then announcement of the death before that day was out.
Yet my sense of surprise was about more than that. At some level, I realised that I was shocked that she had died at all. And that makes no sense, except that for all my life, for as long as I was capable of being aware of the fact, Her Majesty has always been there – had always been there. She had been such a significant figure of continuity in my personal and social existence – and a positive one – that at some subconscious or emotional level I could not envisage life without her
And Martha’s conversation with Jesus is helpful to me here because it confronts me with that universal reality – everyone dies … and that there will be something new. For the conversation continues, with Jesus saying, ‘Your brother will rise again,’ (23) and Martha replying, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ (24) Yes, everybody, whoever they are and whatever their social status, dies, but also everyone is loved by God and offered the prospect of eternal life.
There will be a funeral on September 19th … and I will be conducting it. It’s Tommy’s funeral, and it is due to take place at Whitley Bay crematorium on the afternoon of Monday 19th September. Although it is some years since they were regular churchgoers, Tommy and his wife met at a Presbyterian church in this part of the world, and so the request was for a Presbyterian funeral. By the way, note that Queen Elizabeth practised her religious faith both as an Anglican and a Presbyterian: Supreme Governor of the Church England when in England; worshipping as a member of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland when in Scotland, where her life ended.
Brother Lazarus, Brother Tommy, and Sister Elizabeth, along with all of you and me, enjoy the same status: we are all equally loved by God, and are all offered God’s gift of eternal life. So whether we are mourning the death of a dear friend, a beloved family member, or a sovereign who we may only have seen at a distance, or on a television screen, that person is the recipient of God’s love, God’s justice, and God’s care.
I don’t say any of that in an attempt to detract from the person and dignity our late Queen; to bring her down to my level . I say it in order to celebrate the conviction that her lifetime of service to her people is now crowned with entry into eternal life God’s loving care. And I’m confident that Her Majesty would see things in that way, given here strongly held, explicitly stated, Christian faith.
The conversation between Jesus and the biblical woman witness, Martha, concludes with his statement: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die,’ (11:25, 26) and Martha’s reply, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ (11:27) Not only was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s life and long reign marked by a strong sense of duty and service, but also she was known to speak publicly about her Christian faith; a faith that proclaims that everyone may live and never die.
So, today, as we give thanks for her Majesty’s life and work, we acknowledge that death comes for everyone, including queens and kings. We have a confident hope for a future where all, including queens and kings, continue to experience God’s love and life. Along with our sister-in-faith, Elizabeth, we look to Jesus Christ as the revelation of God’s being and love.
Today and together we dare to commend Her Majesty to God’s care, saying:
Yes, the Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
And be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
And give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)